Governor Slots busts

By Nick Milano

This past week, advocates for Deval Patrick’s proposal to build three casinos in Massachusetts received a major boost from an independent study.

The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce report backed many of the projections made by the Patrick administration. While noting that construction jobs would dramatically fail to even venture close to Patrick’s estimate, the report did affirm his annual revenue and jobs projections.

Despite this news, gaming opponents must continue to stand tall in preventing “Governor Slots,” as Boston Globe columnist Steve Bailey has aptly nicknamed him, from welcoming casinos with open arms.

Even with the chamber’s report, there are still many questions to be answered. The chamber did not assess potential lost revenues for regions in the state.

If Boston’s Mayor Menino gets his casino in East Boston, will tourists forgo the wonderful collection of family-owned Italian eateries in the North End for the fare offered by casino conglomerates? What about other local businesses? Maybe if there were a casino in Boston, the gamblers will sacrifice some time to travel around the historic city, but would they also do so in Western and Southeastern Massachusetts?

Surely, there will be more people visiting those areas, but are they doing so to experience small town Massachusetts, or to drink, dance and gamble? How can local businesses possibly expect a substantial and consistent boon to their coffers? Will golf excursions to Cape Cod turn into gambling escapades? What about the hotel business if casinos build their own? What kind of bearing will casino lobbyists have on legislators?

There have already been signs of meddling by casino lobbyists. The Boston Globe discovered that Speaker of the House Salvatore DiMasi, who has led the attack on Patrick’s casino plan, played two rounds of golf with Joe O’Donnell, co-owner of Suffolk Downs.

Suffolk Downs, according to The Globe, is “aggressively pursuing a gaming license for their East Boston site,” – thus, DiMasi’s legislative independence should be called into question. Only after calls to DiMasi on the Globe’s part did he offer to pay for the two rounds. At the same time, DiMasi triumphantly announced that he had declined an invitation to play with Donald Trump, another casino entrepreneur. While DiMasi has not changed his standing on casinos, he is one of the most recognizable faces in Massachusetts politics. How are less scrutinized members of the Massachusetts legislature being lobbied?

As previously mentioned in this space, casino lobbyists have dramatic control over the direction of laws that affect them. In California, Nevada and New Jersey, casinos were not forced to comply with indoor smoking bans. These state governments apparently put special interests above the public’s ability to work and relax in smoke-free environments. But this shouldn’t be a real surprise.

Governor Slots himself and the chamber’s report have acknowledged that “gambling addictions, crime, and personal bankruptcy rates would almost certainly increase.” But for him and other casino advocates, the millions in state revenue is worth the risk. Ask Governor Slots, and he will say he is doing his part by promising to divert 2.5 percent of state revenue for problem gamblers. In essence he’s admitting that his plan will ruin people’s lives, but claims he should be praised for dedicating money to create a “best in class” rehabilitation program.

With the national economy sliding into a recession, or already in one, Massachusetts is unlikely to escape the wrath of weak economic growth. Governor Slots responded DiMasi’s attacks on his projection of 30,000 one-time construction jobs to build the casinos with a letter to the entire Legislature asking for “sound alternatives” from the Speaker. The way Governor Slots tells it, there is no way to generate economic growth and permanent jobs without the state opening its arms to an industry renowned for destroying lives.

But joining forces with casinos will in no way lead to a boost to the Massachusetts economy. Governor Slots is a brilliant man and his Ivy League education lends one to believe he would approach the slowing economy with more ideas than the simple easy way out, but thanks are in order for the legislators who are steadfast in their beliefs that Massachusetts does not need casinos to lead the 21 century.

While wasting time and goodwill in the legislature by pushing the casino issue, Governor Slots is letting his other legislation falter. He swept into office on a tidal wave of popular support, but his only accomplishment to date has been a defeat of a same-sex marriage ban.

Casinos, like the state lottery, thrive on finding new ways to trick people out of their money. They may be a quick way to raise funds, but they will not create a thriving economy. Employment will jump, revenue will jump, but casinos are not a growth industry – once jobs are filled, new ones will not be created.

Casinos are not and never will be a solution to a state’s problems. Here’s to hoping the legislature stands tall with DiMasi in bankrupting Governor Slots.

Nick Milano writes on Thursdays. He can be reached at [email protected]